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John Hollenhorst reportingThere's a threat today that Utah's most important convention customer, Outdoor Retailer, may pull out of Utah, as a political message to Governor Mike Leavitt.
The issue is a bitter and seemingly, never- ending controversy over wilderness. The threat was prompted by a recent deal between Governor Leavitt and the Bush administration. They settled a lawsuit and agreed that millions of acres were being illegally protected as potential wilderness.
The Outdoor Retailers trade show brings 15,000 visitors $12 Million twice annually to the Salt Lake area.
“Outdoor Retailer is our number one largest customer”, according to Dianne Bingers, Salt Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau. “They are very important to Salt Lake.”
That is the message the top man at Black Diamond would like the Governor to hear. Black Diamond makes climbing & mountaineering gear. It is one of many outdoor recreation firms in Utah that say wilderness is good for business.
“If you don’t believe in wilderness for wilderness sake, think about it from a economic stake,” said Peter Metcalf, CEO of Black Diamond Equipment. “It has huge economic value to this state.”
Peter Metcalf helped bring the Outdoor Retailers show to Salt Lake. Now, he's begun a discussion within the industry to pull the show out because of the Governor's agreement settling a wilderness lawsuit.
“Millions of acres of beautiful, pristine wilderness are now being let go and can be developed in any manner, which will potentially take away their recreational use,” said Metcalf.
The Governor's office says those lands were illegally protected by the Clinton administration. But they may still become wilderness someday.
“We support additional wilderness within the state, but need to do it within the scope of the law,” said Natalie Gochnour, spokeswoman for Governor Leavitt. “It would be unfortunate if people sought to harm our economy over an issue for which we’re searching common ground on.”
Some outdoor retailers have never been happy with the Salt Lake venue and keeping them on board has always been a lot of work for the Convention Bureau. Now that work will be harder. It may come up for a vote at the summer trade show in August.
Metcalf concludes, “I think it’s something we really have to look at and move on -- potentially think about a state that holds our values in high esteem.”